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How to Become a Massage Therapist

August 19, 2019

There are few things in life that have the potential to be as relaxing as having a professional massage therapist work on your body. That feeling of stress, tightness and, sometimes, pain melting away as all your joints and muscles get massaged is the stuff of dreams for a lot of folks.

But the key phrase there is “professional massage therapist”: it’s all fine and dandy to give your partner or spouse a casual back rub, but there are a lot of steps one needs to take before becoming qualified to have a career in massage therapy.

In a separate article, we discussed ‘what you can do with a massage therapy degree’ which outlines the proper training required, job duties, similar professions, and career path options after graduation. Now, in this article, we will discuss how to become a massage therapist, starting right from education all the way to landing a job as a massage therapist.

Article Contents

What does a massage therapist do?

Before we even get to the training and education part, it’s important to understand what, exactly, massage therapy is and what service you will be providing once you learn how to become a massage therapist.

Massage therapists are basically a form of health-care worker; they deal with the body’s soft tissues, including muscle tissue, lymph tissue and connective tissue, to help with general wellness and healing. There are several different types of massage which all target different things. For example, deep-tissue massage is great for those who suffer from chronic pain, while a Swedish massage might be better for post-injury treatment or stress reduction.

It’s clear that massage therapy isn’t just for relaxation; in fact, many doctors and physicians prescribe massage sessions to help with illness and pain, from alleviating side-effects of cancer treatments to easing the pain of childbirth to helping with clinical depression.

massage sessions to help with illness

Massage therapists are in demand

This is one of the reasons why more massage therapists are in demand; as the desire for massage therapy increases, more certified massage therapists are needed to help all those new patients. Not to mention our high-stress lifestyles have made the desire for relaxation treatments increase all the more.

As far as tools of the trade are concerned, your hands will be one of your most important assets (so remember to take care of yourself while you are taking care of others!). Other than that, you’ll have a massage table — or chair, in some circumstances — and a range of lotions and oils ready to suit your client’s needs.

A massage can last anywhere from a few minutes to more than an hour; that will depend on what your client hopes to achieve and your plan for getting them the results they desire.

Massage therapy is one of the oldest medical traditions in the world

Massage therapy is one of the oldest medical traditions in the world; China, India, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Rome, Greece and Mesopotamia all present evidence of massage being used thousands of years ago for health purposes, with each using massage in a slightly different way.

In China, for example, acupuncture massage uses extremely thin needles to hit pressure points on your body to release pain and tension. And one of India’s most famous massage techniques, the head massage, is used not only to reduce stress but to improve joint mobility as relaxing muscles in the head, neck and shoulders has a positive impact on the rest of your body.

These treatments are often still used today and will likely be on the lesson plan as you learn how to become a massage therapist. Keep reading to find out all the necessary steps to launch your massage therapy career.

Have a Passion and Interest for the Massage Therapist Industry

Before entering any profession, it’s important to have a genuine interest in what you’re doing. A massage therapist is a health care professional with a massage certification that helps relieve stress and tension every day. If you’re interested in massage therapy, you should be interested in a hands-on career and the well-being of your patients. Before training as a massage therapist, ask yourself if you are interested in any of the following: a physical yet rewarding career, starting your own business, and flexible hours, among many other attributes. In addition, many massage therapists have high satisfaction in their jobs.

Related Article: Why become a massage therapist?

massage therapy for tension

Certain personality types do well in massage therapy

Personality types that do well in the massage therapy profession are those who have an interest in the Building and Helping areas, as per the Holland Code career classification scale, which matches interests with appropriate careers. Building means you enjoy working with tools and machines and take joy in making or fixing things. Helping means you enjoy assisting, serving, counselling and teaching others. 

You also must be an empathetic person, and able to build trust with your clients; you need to have physical stamina and dexterity, as you may be giving several massages in one day and will be on your feet a lot; you also must have time-management skills, both in terms of keeping track of your appointments and keeping track of the time while you’re in appointments while still tailoring to your client’s needs; and, of course, excellent communication skills are paramount. 

Variety of workplaces

One of the best things about becoming a massage therapist is the ability to work in a variety of workplaces, so if you have an interest in travel, or in changing up your workspace more often than the average person, this might be the right fit for you. Massage therapists are needed in variety of spaces such as hotels, cruise ships, spas, nursing homes, or you could even work from home if you build up a large enough client base and have the appropriate space to do so.

If you said, “Yes,” to a lot of the massage therapist job descriptions above, becoming a licensed massage therapist will be a good career option for you.

Research the Program That Is Right for You

Schools for massage therapy can be found in all provinces across Canada. Before choosing a school, you have probably wondered how much it costs to become a massage therapist.

Robertson College offers the Massage Therapy program at the Winnipeg, Calgary and Brandon campuses. The right program for you can depend on several factors such as where you live, the beginning and end date, tuition costs, and the program itself.

Massage therapist certification

The courses for massage therapist certification vary in length from city to city; in Calgary, the course length is 48 weeks, which equates to 1,200 hours (150 of which are part of your practicum), while in Winnipeg, the course runs 110 weeks, or 2300 hours.

The admission requirements for Robertson’s programs include having a High School diploma (or equivalent), a passing grade in English, Grade 11 or 12 Biology and/or Chemistry, a Criminal Record Check, and, for those whose first language is not English, a proof of English proficiency is required.

As far massage therapy school costs are concerned, that is totally dependent on the program and learning institution you choose, and can range from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $20,000.

The Canada Council of Massage Therapy Schools outlines schools in Canada that meet the proper training and education to become a massage therapist in Canada. View all member schools here.

Successfully Complete a Massage Therapy Program

So, how long does it take to become a licensed massage therapist? Well, regarded massage therapists will receive a one- or two-year diploma in a regulated massage therapy program.

During your massage therapy training, you will learn research and evidence-based information that meets national standards. Topics you might encounter include anatomy, pathophysiology, physiology, pharmacology, general principles and techniques, first aid, orthopaedic assessment and clinical massage treatments.

Another aspect of a massage therapy career many don’t take into account is the business side of things. Many massage therapists are self-employed and take jobs from numerous different companies and clients. So, your massage therapy program will also likely go over the basics of owning your own business and what comes along with that, including learning management concepts, how to deal with any legal issues you may encounter and how to document your ingoing and outgoing finances to help you when tax time rolls around.

Depending on which province you are in, you may have to take an entry-to-practice examination, which tests competency, knowledge, skill, safety and professionalism in the practice of massage therapy. Exams have both written and practical components.

massage therapy oils

Complete Practical Requirements During Massage Certification

One of the many attractive and exciting benefits of becoming a massage therapist is hands-on and practical training. Whichever program you choose, you will have the chance to do practical work in an array of settings like spas, chiropractic offices, wellness clinics, sport injury clinics and other rehab centres.

Depending on which province you are in, the necessary requirements change. For example, The Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba supports a minimum entry-to-practice education of two-three years (2200+ hours) of academic and practical/clinical education. Robertson College Massage Therapy program in Winnipeg is 2300 hours.

On the job you will learn how to create a soothing environment for your clients, what to ask when discussing a client’s needs and/or medical history and how to provide the correct massage that will help your client’s specific issues. You may also pick up some bedside manner tips, such as checking in periodically to make sure your client is comfortable and keeping track of your regular clients’ likes, dislikes, issues and progress.

Doing a lot of practical training will also just help you become more comfortable with and confident in your massage therapy training, which is just a bonus!

Advance Your Training

While not necessary, you could continue your education after receiving your diploma. With further education, you can specialize and hone in on a specific type of medical massage therapy like reflexology, stone therapy, deep tissue, and so many more. Many community and private colleges offer advanced courses and training. Robertson College offers a 42-week Advanced Massage Therapy Diploma program

Let’s look at a few types of massage therapy you can learn while furthering your education:

Reflexology

This is a type of massage that consists of applying different amounts of pressure to the feet, hands and ears. It’s rooted in a theory that believes those body parts are connected to specific organs and body systems. It was developed as a key component to ancient Chinese medicine, and is connected to the idea of qi (pronounced “chee” in English) which they believe flows through every human. Stress causes your qi to be blocked, and that imbalance can lead to illness or injury. Many people who actively use reflexology have reported the method helped them boost their immune system, get over colds and infections, recover from back problems, increase fertility and ease arthritis pain, among many other things.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage is ideal for clients who suffer from muscle pain and tension. This is a therapeutic massage, similar to a Swedish massage, except you, as the massage therapist, uses heated stones rather than (or in addition to) your hands. The heat helps improve blood flow, ease muscle tension and also helps encourage relaxation.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy massages also include an emotional healing component, not just physical. This kind of massage is intended to boost the mood of your client, reduce anxiety, release muscle tension and pain and can also help reduce symptoms of depression. These massages combine soft pressure with the use of essential oils (so this will not be idea for everyone, especially those who are sensitive to scents). Different essential oils will help with different issues, so make sure to do thorough research on this.

Sports massage

Sports massage is great for clients who have repetitive stress injuries from physical activity or just any repeated activity. This type of massage can also be done preventatively, for those who are prone to injuries. This can be a full-body massage or one pinpointed on a specific problem area. The severity and placement of the injury will change how deep you go and the level of pressure you use.

Trigger point massage

As the name suggests, a trigger-point massage is best for those who have specific issues or conditions, such as chronic pain. Areas of tightness in the muscle tissues are known as trigger points and can cause serious pain. By relieving those trigger points, you will reduce that pain. This type of massage combines deep pressure with more gentle and relaxing movements.

Prenatal massage

Pregnant women require careful and specific handling, especially those in their first trimester (in fact, it’s actually best to avoid giving massages to women who are in this stage of pregnancy due to the risk of miscarriage). Prenatal massage uses mild pressure to work on the hips, back and legs, and other areas that pregnancy can impact. It will help release muscle tension and help to reduce aches and pains that come along with growing a human life.

There are several other areas of massage therapy study as well, so there is no shortage of paths to take when looking to advance your training.

massage for neck relief

Begin Your Job Search

The good news about massage therapy is that through your practical work placement, you will network and meet people in the industry. Also, in Canada is that there is a high demand for massage therapists. The massage therapy program you take should be equipped with resources to help you find a job once you graduate.

Here are a few different options you could consider as you begin your career as a licensed massage therapist.

Spas

When someone says the word “massage” the first place most people thing of is a spa. Soft, warm lighting; earthy, herbal aromas; lush bathrobes and towels; steam rooms and saunas; the works! Spas are all about relaxation, which is often what people hope to achieve while getting a massage. So if you’re all about helping your clients destress in a welcoming, beautiful environment, a spa job should be at the top of your list.

Rehab clinics and hospitals

In a rehabilitation clinic or hospital, your focus would be on healing injuries and soothing pain. You’ll be working with people who likely have reduced mobility, are relearning physical skills after an accident, who deal with chronic pain or injury-specific pain and those who may be well on their way to full recovery who just need a bit of extra help when it comes to stress reduction and muscle tension.

Cruise ships and hotels

In the same vein as spas, cruise ships and hotels are the ultimate relaxation destination for a lot of people. What better way to round out a beautiful vacation than with a stress-reducing massage overlooking the ocean? Many travellers take the opportunity to splurge on luxury purchases while on vacation, so you’ll likely be working a lot. 

Wellness centres

A wellness centre is an establishment that offers services for both the body and the mind; mental and medical healthcare workers (as well as nutritionists, life-coaches and any number of other wellness professionals) provide numerous treatment options that perhaps are less traditional than what one would receive at a hospital or rehab clinic. Natural healing has become quite popular, and massage therapy definitely falls under that category, so a job in a facility such as this would likely look like helping with anything from a tension headache to muscle injuries to symptoms of depression or other mental illness.

Self-employed practice

As mentioned above, a lot of massage therapists are totally self-employed and work for companies on a contract basis. The other option is to work for yourself out of your home or in a small rented space, essentially starting your own massage therapy practice. This is a tough path to take, especially if you don’t already have a blooming client base, but there are lots of benefits, such as choosing your own hours.

Related Article: Is massage therapy a good career?

massage therapy school

How to Land a Massage Therapy Job

Applying for any job can be a scary and stressful process. If you’ve completed your massage therapy training and are getting ready to interview with some potential employers, here’s a few general interview tips, as well as a few specific things to expect in a massage therapy job interview. 

Bring your resume

Don’t expect your interviewer to have a copy of your resume on hand; it’s always best to bring a hard copy with you (and a cover letter!) so both you and your interviewer can reference it on the spot. Discuss your training, any past on-the-job experience, the reasons why you wanted to become a massage therapist and why you think you’d be the right fit for the company and that specific position. 

Dress to impress

Even if you’re applying for a job at a spa or somewhere else you may be in scrubs or comfy attire during your work day, make sure you dress smartly when you go in for your interview. We’re not talking a suit and tie or formal dress, necessarily, but your outfit should be clean and pressed, and definitely no shorts or flip flops. Keep in mind you will likely be asked to give a massage, so make sure you’ll be able to move around in whatever outfit you choose. 

Expect to do a Massage

Most potential employers will want to see how you do in a hands-on audition, so you’ll want to be prepared. Try and keep your nerves at bay, as your client will pick up on that and it will affect the success of your massage. Take a deep breath and remember all of your training and if you’re feeling jittery beforehand, take a minute to collect yourself and stretch before you begin. 

Practice

Before your interview, practice! Rehearse basic answers to questions you know are likely to be asked (such as the amount of clients you see on a daily/weekly basis, your reasons for getting into the profession) and take mental note of your selling points as an employee. The more you practice, the easier your interview will be.

The most important thing is to just be yourself; employers and clients can quickly tell if you aren’t being genuine, so keep calm, present your best self and you’ll be sure to nail it.

Massage therapy stats in Canada

A 2017 report by the Fraser Institute has pointed to a dramatic increase in the use of massage. In 2016, the majority of adult Canadians, 79 per cent, had tried at least one form of alternative medicine, and 44 per cent of that group had tried massage. Ten years prior, that number was only at 35 per cent. 

Massage therapy, among other alternative and complementary medicine, is most popular among millennials and young Gen X-ers, possibly because of lot of employer-provided health insurance now also includes coverage for massage in some capacity. 

In Manitoba specifically, where two of Robertson’s programs are located, 59 per cent of the population visited a massage therapist in 2015, and 34 per cent of Manitobans use massage therapy services three or more times a year, according to research commissioned by Massage Therapy Association Manitoba

On a national scale, 61 per cent of massage therapists are able to work full time (which is considered more than 25 hours a week), while another 29 per cent bring in part time hours. 

And of course, you’re wondering, ‘How much can I earn as a licensed massage therapist?’ Well, according to the MTAM research, 31 per cent of those who answered make between $40,000-$69,999 annually. 

The MTAM now has more than 1,100 members, the highest in the organizations history.

This is all to say that yes, massage therapy is a growing field; yes, massage therapy is in demand from clients; and yes, you can make a full-time or part-time career of massage therapy if you should choose to do so.

back massage

Benefits of becoming a licensed massage therapist

We’ve talked a lot about how to become a masseuse, but another question to think about is, why become a massage therapist?

Really, the biggest reason why is because you want to help people; you want to help them reduce pain; you want to help them destress and cope with anxiety; you want to help them through rehabilitation after an injury or an illness; you want to use your skills and training to make their lives better and easier. Massage therapy is all about providing a positive, warm and sensitive environment for healing, and by delivering quality massages, you could literally be changing someone’s life. Not to mention you can build lasting relationships with your clients, which can be meaningful in its own way. 

Massage therapy field is growing

On the practical side, as noted above, the massage therapy field is growing right now, which means job opportunities will also be on the rise and certified massage therapists are in demand. 

Flexibility is what most massage therapists will point to as a large benefit of the profession; you have the ability to cater your work schedule to accommodate your life schedule and work as much or as little as you choose. You can open your own business, or, if you’d rather have a more formal day-job, there are options for that as well in a hotel or spa or other businesses that will likely also result in employee benefits and paid time off. It is one of a handful of professions that allows for both full-time salaried employment options as well as freelance/self-employment

Conclusion

After reading this article you should have a better idea of how to become a licensed massage therapist and the steps you need to take to go from being interested in massage therapy to landing a job in the field. Robertson’s Massage Therapy Diploma Program is an incredible option for Calgary, Winnipeg, and Brandon students interested in starting a meaningful and successful career as a massage therapist. Connect with a Students Admissions Advisor for more information.

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